Dog training, Steve told us, is like MapQuest. There are really only two things you need to know: where you are now, and where you want to go.
It’s important to know where you are because if you don’t, you might just go in the wrong direction. While a dog’s past can give you some insight into his behavior, it can also color your perceptions. It’s important to know where your dog really is, not where you think he is.
This is why baselining is so important. It gives you an objective way to know where you and your dog currently are. For each training task that a dog/person team worked on, we took a baseline. We found that Steve was right when he said the easiest way to get a useful baseline was by doing one rep of the behavior. This one rep could be done cold or it could be done after the dog was warmed up with other behaviors. Either way, we would quickly know where the dog was.
We used a really cool chart, which I have recreated in Excel for illustrative purposes, to take the baseline:
As you can see, this actually measures six different components of that single repetition of the behavior. The first three have to do with the fluency of the behavior. (Fluency means that the dog can perform without thought. However, this may only happen in a single environment or with a particular person.) Accuracy refers to what the behavior looks like. Did the dog do the behavior correctly? Latency means how quickly your dog responds to the cue. Speed/Intensity refers to, well, how fast or intense the behavior is.
The next three have to do with generalization. (Generalization is when the behavior is fluent in any environment with any person, and despite competing environmental demands.) Is the dog able to do it with duration? From a distance? When there are distractions?
For each component, you choose whether the dog’s response was unacceptable, needs improvement, met the standard you set, exceeded expectations, or was considered excellent. If your dog scores all 3s or above, then you can increase criteria.
The really tricky part of baselining is making sure that you are very clear in what you’re looking at. A sit is not just a sit. To one person, a sit may mean that the dog’s butt hits the ground within 5 seconds or so. To another, a sit may been that the dog’s elbows are straight and the hips square, that the dog did a tuck sit (where the back legs come under him rather than the dog rocking backwards into the sit), that the response happens within a second of being cues with a single verbal cue, and that the dog remains in the sit until told otherwise.
Pretty big difference in those two descriptions, isn’t there? During the working sessions, we spent a lot of time nailing down exactly what we were looking at. I was sometimes surprised to discover that I envisioned the behavior looking completely different from the way my teammates had envisioned it. We got quite good at describing what we were about to do very clearly: I am going to stand in front of my dog while she’s standing at a distance of 3 feet, then give her a single hand signal to sit. I expect that her but will be on the ground within 2 seconds; I don’t care what the sit looks like.
This might seem picky and pedantic, but not only will it help you get an accurate baseline, it’s also important to do this when you start your training sessions. Remember, part of MapQuest is both knowing where you currently are and knowing where you want to go. Just as there is a big difference between Madison, Wisconsin and Madison, South Dakota, there is a big difference between a competition sit and a puppy sit.
Now, I’ll be honest. All of this seems like a lot of work. I probably won’t be busting out the forms any time in the future. I’ve tried record keeping in the past and honestly, I’m just lazy. But I do want to play with the idea of a single-rep baseline and I will definitely be better about articulating my criteria before I start training.
What about you? Will you incorporate any of this information in your training?